A New England Sojourn

I spent part of last week in New England, with Donovan K. Loucks, keeper of the H. P. Lovecraft Website, and his lovely wife Pam.  I arrived on Tuesday, driving up to Providence after work and ending up quite exhausted.

I wasn’t too exhausted, however, to head into Cambridge to visit the Harvard University Archives, trying to obtain some background that might be useful for future projects dealing with the Widener Library.  My carefully-copied archive number turned out to be illusory, but the staff were very helpful in figuring out what documents might be most relevant for my search – although they’d have to be called the next day.  That was fine with me, and I filled out the rest of the afternoon visiting the Boston Public Library to consult old directories to fill out my knowledge of the place in the Twenties.  After that, I returned to Providence to attend Donovan’s birthday party for H. P. Lovecraft, complete with a one-man retelling of “The Call of Cthulhu” by dramatist David Neilsen and Donovan’s own walking-while-sitting tour through Lovecraft’s Providence.  Also, there was cake.

Lovecraft Birthday Cake

The next day, I was back at the Archives, which I finished rather early.  Having learned the previous day of the outrageous parking rates in Cambridge, I realized it was in my best interest to hang out some more, visiting various bookstores and the Peabody Museum.  On my way out of town, I stopped out of curiosity at the Seven Stars bookstore, only to find perhaps the best store for books on the Western mystery traditions in this country.  I walked out with a few items to fill out my collection, including Kenneth Grant’s Outside the Circles of Time, which will give readers some idea of the place’s comprehensiveness.  I then returned to Providence, and my memory fails me as to what occurred that night.

Friday, we all headed out for the North Shore, in order to investigate the places that might have inspired Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth.”  We headed north and then worked our way south, beginning with a lengthy stopover in Newburyport, and then heading south through Ipswich, Rowley, Essex, Rockport, and Gloucester, with a lengthy detour at the latter to visit the rock formation, Mother Ann, which served as the inspiration for “The Strange High House in the Mist,” despite the lack of mist and the fact that it was neither high nor house-bearing:

242

We made our way back, stopping in Manchester for groceries and a bookstore, and in Salem for Italian food and a nighttime ramble through the Charter Street Burial Ground and past the house that inspired “The Unnameable.”

Saturday, we had had enough of jetting about, so we played games for most of the day.  We couldn’t sort out A Study in Emerald in time, but we did play Elder Signs and quite a bit of Rock Band.  That evening, we headed downtown to visit the Providence Public Library’s Lovecraft Readathon, after which we headed over for Indian food at Waterfire, which was spectacular as always.

WaterFire Providence

After that, we came back to receive a crushing defeat in the game Witch of Salem, in which you must fight back the forces of darkness while assisting Bob, the Witch of Salem.  The game is much like Arkham Horror in that you’re trying to close gates, save that you are unable to communicate to the other players whether a gate exists at a location.  I speculated that the Witch of Salem was a drama queen who enforced our silence to enhance his own self-importance.

The next day, we played some Rock Band and I drove home.  It’s always great to see the Louckses, and this trip raised my number of “stories inspired by sites in Providence” by two, so it was all for the best.

Published in: on August 24, 2014 at 10:59 pm  Comments (2)  

Book of Oberon Available for Pre-Orders, and a Contradiction, and an Unanticipated Amazon Rant

Amazon has The Book of Oberon available for pre-order for $58.50, with the book being scheduled for April of next year.

Also, I’d appreciate suggestions as to companies other than Amazon to whom I can link for books.  The whole affair with Hachette has left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

For the most part, I’ve been appreciative of Amazon over the years.  Having a single distributor that can consistently stock small and mid-level press titles is a great boon for publishers and authors on specialized topics.   There’s certainly negotiation that goes on behind the scenes on the price of particular points, as there is with any other distributor.  Nonetheless, if that distributor decides to make some books harder to obtain than others, all other factors being considered, then that distributor has really failed.  If your job is to sell people books, and you decide to make it harder to do that, then you’re not doing what you’re supposed to.

There’s a lot from Amazon about how much this benefits authors.  Don’t believe them.  If Amazon wants to sell books for well below retail, that’s making less money for the authors.  Hell, when I wanted an e-book copy of my edition of The Long-Lost Friend to read on Kindle, I had to buy it myself.   I’d say that, taking into account the book trade’s standard contracts, the cuts from distributors, the culture of making scanned copies of books free on the Internet, and the various content aggregators that re-market people’s work for their own profit, this may be the period where authors and other content creators are respected less than any other.

Then again, no one’s planning to burn me at the stake, which means I’m ahead of the game.

So, anyone who wants to send me some independent booksellers with excellent shipping to whom I can link when new books come out, I’d appreciate it.  Otherwise, I’ll be sending people to publishers’ websites more.

ADDENDUM:  I’ve had some objections relating to my Amazon position that I’d like to address.  The most common one is that this is simply a negotiation between a distributor and a publisher.  This is true.  Nonetheless, such negotiations can occur without the largest distributor in the world simply deciding to make vast swaths of information mostly unavailable to the public.  That certainly does not serve its customers, and those customers are free to make their decision to shop elsewhere.

Published in: on August 9, 2014 at 9:57 pm  Comments (9)  

Upcoming Radio Appearance

I’ll be appearing on the show “Where Did the Road Go?” this coming Saturday the 9th from 11-12 on WVBR, 93.5 out of Ithaca, New York.    I’ll be talking about Lovecraft, and likely whatever else people might ask.  You can listen online if you’re not local to Ithaca, so check it out.

Published in: on August 2, 2014 at 2:15 pm  Comments (1)  

More on Charm Sticks and Charm Wands

After my last post, I wanted to put up another item or two on charm wands that I came across.  The first reference is from Radford and Radford’s Encyclopedia of Superstitions:

CHARM WANDS

Glass wands, shaped like a walking-stick with a curved handle and having hair lines in the glass, or rods filled with a multitude of small coloured seeds, are now sometimes seen in houses where they are kept as curios or ornaments.  Formerly, however, they were hung up as a protection against witchcraft and evil spirits.  It was believed that any entering demon or witch would be forced to count the lines or seeds during the hours of darkness, and would be prevented, while doing so, from enchanting or injuring any person or thing in the house.  Disease and infections were similarly supposed to fly to the wand and to be held there.  In the morning, the evil influences could be harmlessly wiped away with a cloth.

If such a charm-wand was accidentally broken, the omen was bad, and illness or misfortune of some kind was expected to follow.

Next, we have a passage in Nigel Pennick’s Secrets of East Anglian Magic, 2nd edition:

Looking like a glass walking-stick, containing spirals of coloured glass threads, the charm wand was once more than just a collectable curio… The master glassmakers who created them by hand produced magically empowered artifacts with the express function of warding off airborne illness.  The proper way to use a charm wand is to hang it up indoors as a protection against the entry of disease into the house.  To empower the wand, each morning it should be wiped vigorously with a dry cloth, charging it up to trap contagious particles in the air… Naturally, breaking one is an extremely bad omen, and ill is sure to follow.

Now, what you’ll notice about both these sources is how recent they are.  It’s troubling that I was unable to find any earlier sources.  Was I overlooking something?

I asked for some help on this question, and I’ll share what I found with you next time.

 

 

 

Published in: on June 9, 2014 at 10:46 pm  Comments (2)  

Charm Sticks and Charm Wands: A Little-Noted Item of Folklore

Over a year ago, I was kicking about the back roads of Cornwall for a few days.  Having had to revise my itinerary due to confusion about a car registration, I chose to take the bus out to Zennor to see the famous mermaid bench in its church (here’s the legend that surrounds it).   Not knowing what else to visit in Zennor, which is an incredibly small town, I chose to spent a pleasant hour in the Wayside Museum there, which includes a working mill and other relics of traditional life in Cornwall from various eras.  It was there that I saw the following curious item, hanging on a beam over the hearth in the kitchen display:

Charm stick, Wayside Museum, Zennor

Charm stick, Wayside Museum, Zennor

It’s hard to see from the position, but you can see the crook at one end on the left and follow the shaft over Here are the two captions underneath:

Charm Stick

Made of Bristol glass … was hung over the fireplace so that when the little devils came down the chimney at night, they settled on the stick to count the little bubbles and cracks.  In the morning they were wiped off with a rag and the rag burnt!

This stick is of Nailsea glass.  Items like this were often made by apprentices at the end of the day.  It would have been brought back to Cornwall on the ships that carried tin-ore to Bristol for smelting.

Of course, that was the sort of thing that got my attention.  Given all the other scrambling about attached to my trip, I wasn’t able to sit down and think about it until later.  I’ll post more about this in a subsequent entry.  In the meantime, if you’re not making it out to Zennor any time soon, you might take this short video tour.   I believe you can glimpse the end of the stick around the 8:30 mark:

Published in: on June 4, 2014 at 11:40 pm  Comments (3)  

Review: The Testament of Cyprian the Mage

Recently I’ve been reading through the final offering in Jake Stratton-Kent’s “Encyclopedia Goetica” series, The Testament of Cyprian the Mage.  This work follows the True Grimoire (review here and here) and Geosophia (review and response).

This book moves the focus from the previous works on the Grimorium Verum and the Greek mythological and ritual tradition, moving to Iberia, the Americas, and the Middle East.   Stratton-Kent is seeking to move magical practice away from the dualistic model present in much ritual magic from the medieval period in which one calls upon God and the angels to compel demons.  Instead, he examines working with traditions in which one petitions superior spirits of the same hierarchy for the same effects.

To accomplish this, JSK explores the contents of a Sufurino edition of the Testament of Cyprian, most likely dating to the 19th century.  Using the purported author as a spiritual link to the past, he takes us back to the time of the historical Saint Cyprian to examine the magical works that someone of his time and place might consult.  Thus, we have excursions into theurgy, the magical papyri, the Testament of Solomon, Hermetic image magic, and decans.  He also proceeds through the work by Cyprian chapter-by chapter, with a few lacunae where it overlaps with an upcoming work from Joe Peterson.  As he does so, he highlights various aspects of the spirits and procedures within that reflect the views mentioned above, drawing upon necromancy, fairy lore, the four kings present in some medieval magic works, elementals, and the Quimbanda tradition.

One element that is definitely in favor of this particular volume is the bibliography. JSK has picked an absolutely top-notch list of reputable sources to make his arguments.   I have some misgivings about their uses, however.  What the book presents is a grand synthesis of various works, theologies, and ideas, as has been done by individuals such as Levi and Mathers.  As such, someone who incorporates it into their magical practice might find it valuable and evocative, but others will be skeptical as to how far such disparate sources can be stretched.  The following passage near the end (volume 2, p. 197):

The syncretism of Kimbanda associates rusalkis with Pomba Gira Rainha das Almas (Pomba Gira of Souls)…  Lilith is frequently paired with Asmodeus and related figures.  So too the precedent of Exu Lucifer’s pairing with Exu Pomba Gira (Klepoth) implies a similar relationship between the Lucifer of the grimoires and Astaroth.  Sibylia’s equivalence with Lamia (explored in Geosophia) and with Lilith is also echoed in Kimbanda’s syncretism.  The equivalent of Lamia in Kimbanda is Pomba Gira Maria Quiteria, that of Lamashtu, Pomba Gira Rainha da Kalunga.

Your reaction to that passage indicates how you are likely to feel about the Testament.

I am also skeptical as to his overall claim that spirits in the same hierarchy are an older development than spirits in opposition.   I think what would really be required here is an examination of the Mesopotamian anti-demon incantations.  These might not display the dualistic aspect, but it nonetheless engages with how much the demons are agents of the gods or independent operators (sometimes yes, sometimes no), with some interesting variations, such as the curious relationship between Lamashtu and Pazuzu.  Such material would have been available to the Hebrews during the Babylonian activity, and a slight Mesopotamian influence on the magical papyri is also present.  As such, I think that perhaps uncertain relationships between demonic spirits and the celestial hierarchy might pre-date dualistic cosmology, and that this might be a worthy topic to examine.

And yet… even if I have some concerns I really like a number of aspects of this book.  JSK is engaging with a number of interesting topics, ranging from incantations that call upon infernal forces to books of image magic to analyses of the Testament of Solomon and the kings of the four directions.   Due to his desire to cover a vast range of topics, we never get too in-depth with any one of these, but the reader can be referred to the bibliography.  Also, he is absolutely correct in pointing out just how much MacGregor Mathers (and Crowley and Waite, to a lesser degree), are responsible for the popular understanding of the grimoires, and how much of a complex phenomenon these simplified approaches have glossed over.

Overall, the book is probably most valuable for those interested in exploring the themes in JSK’s other works further, or those who aren’t too familiar with occult literature beyond the grimoires found in their bookstore’s occult section.  Fortunately, I think the paperback and ebook options move the work much closer to an affordable range for readers.

Published in: on May 26, 2014 at 4:14 pm  Comments (2)  

Book of Oberon Cover

Book of Oberon Cover

The cover to The Book of Oberon – for sale next year!

Published in: on May 20, 2014 at 4:11 pm  Comments (4)  

An Open Letter to Dan O’Brien

Dear Mr. O’Brien,

I have recently been informed about your DMCA takedown notice against the Prospero’s Price Kickstarter on the grounds that it infringes your right to market a book bringing together “The Tempest” and H. P. Lovecraft.  It is time to alert you to a serious breach of intellectual property.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” is a graphic novel series by the acclaimed author Alan Moore.  I could mention the number of Google hits, the coverage in prominent magazines, the reviews on Goodreads, and the movie adaptation in 2003 that featured Tom Sawyer so that U. S. audiences might be convinced to watch it (unsuccessfully), but really, you have a computer.

Beginning in Volume 2 (published 2002-3), Alan Moore incorporated a number of characters from “The Tempest” and Lovecraft into his series, and he continues to do so.   Out of all the thousands of characters, stories, and plays available from your sources, it can be no coincidence that you have picked characters from Mr. Moore’s work such as Prospero, Ariel, Caliban, Cthulhu, and the Deep Ones.   You must agree that the latter is especially damning, given the lack of fiction written about Cthulhu or the Deep Ones.

Having brought this to your attention, I have no doubt that you will remove your book from circulation in accord with international copyright law.

Sincerely,

Daniel Harms

P. S.  I do have to thank you for bringing this to my attention.  I am preparing for publication a book from 1580 featuring Oberion, King of the Fairies.  Upon researching your case, it has come to my attention that this “Shakespeare” character later published a play that incorporates one Oberon as King of the Fairies.  Rest assured that I will not rest until this scoundrel is forced to remove all of his infringing work from the Internet.

Published in: on March 7, 2014 at 10:41 pm  Comments (3)  

Review – Hex Signs: Myth and Meaning in Pennsylvania Dutch Barn Stars

A few weeks ago, I spent an oft-delayed yet pleasant afternoon and evening with Patrick Donmoyer.  Patrick is the site manager of Kutztown University’s Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center, not to mention the translator of The Friend in Need, another charm book by Hohman which I’ve reviewed previously.  We spent most of our time viewing multiple impressive collections of magical books, talismans, and other magical items.  Before I left, I picked up the second book in the Center’s new series – Donmoyer’s own Hex Signs.

From time to time, I’m asked if The Long-Lost Friend has anything to do with hex signs, those beautiful star and flower figures that decorate the barns across much of eastern Pennsylvania and adjacent areas where German settlers made their homes.  The answer is, “Not really,” with a follow-up about the possibility of a mystical link that might or might not be present.  Hex Signs provides us with answers to these questions, and much more.

So, were hex signs intended to protect the barn magically, or were they decorations?  Donmoyer’s answer is that these have no apotropaic sorcerous qualities, as far as it relates to history.  The belief seems to come down to one researcher’s interview with a single unspecified Pennsylvania Dutch farmer, which no one since has been able to duplicate, and the term “hex signs” seems to have been a creation for outsiders.  Donmoyer goes on to document the progression of these symbols from stone keystones found in the sides of early barns, along with their parallels to barn decoration in the Old World, and the many variations of patterns throughout the region.

At the same time, however, hex signs are not merely decorative elements.  Within their bright colors and eye-catching whorls and points are elements of celestial and numerological significance.  Similar motifs turn up on decorations elsewhere, indicating that these symbols are expressions of important cosmological and spiritual practices among the Pennsylvania German.
Those interested in the occult are also in luck.  Even if magic cannot be found in the hex signs on the barn, it may yet lurk inside.  Within are walls covered with graffiti, including magical phrases on the walls, talismans tucked within the rafters, and drawings of the Elbedritsch, a mythical horned bird.  We are treated not only to descriptions, but pictures of these discoveries.

Finally, the book discusses those artists who have brought the hex sign into the present and seek to preserve these creations that tell so much about Pennsylvania history.  This is where magic re-enters, as the popular discourse about signs has had its effect on the attitudes and practices of those who design them today.

All of this is richly illustrated with copious photographs that highlight the author’s arguments.  In fact, my only criticism is that the book might be better served in a large coffee table format, which would allow us to view the signs on a larger scale.

Hex Signs is available through the Heritage Center, and is certainly worth it for those interested in folk art, folklore, or folk magic.

 

Published in: on February 17, 2014 at 10:09 am  Comments (4)  

Double Kickstarters

Somehow I’ve managed to get myself entangled in not one but two Kickstarters at once.  Both have already reached the initial funding goal, so if you jump on board, you’ll be getting something neat and adding to everyone else’s neat stuff.

First, the Call of Cthulhu book Tales from the Crescent City features my adventure “Needles,” in which your investigators take on a New Orleans legend and uncover the terrifying truth behind them.  At the Algiers level, you’ll get that scenario, plus another five by some great authors, including a rewritten version of Kevin Ross’ classic “Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign?” and his all-new sequel, in both print and PDF.  Tales also has  a New Orleans neighborhood guide written by locals, a two-page Roaring Twenties map of the city,  and a writeup of HPL’s mystic Etienne-Laurent de Marigny, in both print and PDF.  The next stretch goal is the book’s seventh scenario.

On top of that, you’ll get a Mythos scenario in PDF format, another four scenarios based upon New Orleans folklore (and more with more stretch goals) in PDF, and a set of Mardi Gras beads.  I told Oscar Rios of Golden Goblin Press to charge you more than $35 for all this, but he didn’t listen.

Second is the fiction anthology Delta Green:  Tales from Failed Anatomies, a collection of stories of paranormal investigation and creeping horror by Dennis Detwiller.   More stories are being written as stretch goals by Kenneth Hite, Adam Scott Glancy, Cody Goodfellow, and Greg Stolze.  When the campaign reaches $10,000 (it’s at $8700 right now), I’ll write a Delta Green short story called “Dark,” set during the NYC blackout of 1977.   Maybe I’ll weave in something else that was going on in the Big Apple at that time.

For $15, you’ll get the e-book, plus all of the stretch goal stories, plus a coupon to buy a paperback of Detwiller’s book for about $10 or hardback for $25, plus a coupon to buy my story and the others in a book for another $10 if we reach enough goals to fill it.  (They’re giving out the coupons for purchase later in order to speed up delivery.)  For another $15, you can be an alpha tester for the new Delta Green RPG as well.

In either case, you’re getting a lot of quality material for not too much from companies with good track records.  Donate a little so you can read something great.

Published in: on February 15, 2014 at 10:00 am  Comments (1)  
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